Bikes & Transit

Bikes & Transit

Biking is Constant

Aparna Jain by Natalie Orenstein

It’s been a year of transitions for Aparna Jain. She left her job at Zynga to work at the Fox Network and she moved with her husband from Mountain View to the Bay Meadows housing development in San Mateo.

The constant throughout all the change? Aparna’s bike.

The software engineer began biking at the age of six in rural India, where she lived until she came to California to get a Master’s in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. There, her bike gave her access to the massive campus and to a totally new environment. Now she brings it with her on Caltrain each morning and bikes the rest of the way to work from the station in San Francisco, significantly cutting her commute time by avoiding walking.

And once or twice a week, Aparna wakes up early and pedals with a few friends all 24 miles between San Mateo and the city.

Although she’s a seasoned cycler, getting out of bed and biking for two hours before work didn’t come entirely naturally for Aparna. “Since I moved here I had been thinking of riding, and every day I’d say, ‘Next time, next time,’” Aparna remembers. “One day we just said, ‘OK, you better be there at 7 a.m.!’ It’s a hard commitment but if you have company, that helps a lot.”

As soon as she got into the new routine, Aparna began “craving” the morning rides. “It’s more of a stress-buster than a commute,” she says.

And probably the prettiest stress-buster around.

“One of the really interesting routes we took was the Bay Trail,” Aparna says. “I took the train to Milbrae and from there went to the SFO area. There’s a nice stretch of the Bay Trail which is about 45 minutes to an hour, and it was so beautiful. You bike along the bay and you see planes flying in and out, and the ocean and people fishing and running. There’s no traffic so it’s just a peaceful route.” And she still got to the office in time to shower and eat breakfast before settling into work.

Aparna figures biking is good for herself and her surroundings. “I’m not burning any fuel – just the extra calories!” she says.

She doesn’t limit her adventures to the work week. Recently, she and her husband took their bikes to Monterey’s 17-Mile Drive. “It was just a different world on our bikes,” Aparna said. “We’ve been there in cars, and you can stop and get out, but it’s not the same at all. A bike doesn’t have windows – you’re always actually experiencing the moment.” Plenty of her best commutes and bike trips wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t spotted a hidden trailhead or new route while on her bike.

Aparna’s advice to new bikers is to find people to ride with.

“It’s a lot more fun. You can discuss your ride and learn from them,” she says. “I have friends who do longer rides so I’ve taken inspiration from them and become a stronger, better biker. Especially when we do something like Twin Peaks. Those are nasty climbs, but it’s so fulfilling to reach the top of the mountain. And you’re 40 miles an hour coming down.”

Aparna appreciates that her housing complex encourages residents to make even simple trips to the grocery store by bike. And she cites resources like REI’s free tune-up classes as crucial. Support is out there, she says.

If you’re in San Mateo or San Francisco on Bike to Work Day, look out for Aparna and her cohort.

“I really like the spirit of Bike to Work Day,” she says. “I’m making sure I have my morning clear!”

The Changing Face of Biking in SF

Lorraine Goodwin, by Mai Le

When Lorraine Goodwin moved to San Francisco in 2004, she made a conscious decision to ride her refurbished 1980s-era Piaggio to BART and bike to her job (at the time in Oakland). Keeping up this habit has been easy and this year she will celebrate a decade of participating in Bike to Work Day.

Moving to San Francisco from her Long Island hometown, meant that Lorraine never got in the habit of driving a car, though she has her driver’s license. Living in the Mission District means that most of her cycling, especially for errands, are on flat terrain. She finds that, more often than not, her ride home through the streets of SF is often downhill.

Now, Lorraine works at the Asian Art Museum, where her commute is a quick 1.7 miles down Valencia Street, onto Market Street and into the Civic Center. It helps that the Asian Art Museum supports bicycling as a commute option by providing secure bike parking in the basement of the building, as well as commuter checks with a bike commuter benefit.

Lorraine bikes everyday, no matter the weather and will often bike 10-15 miles a day, depending on what social and recreational activities she may have planned. Living an active lifestyle in San Francisco has made it a convenient necessity to make use of pedal power. Muni and BART just doesn’t cover the City enough to reach every dive bar, art gallery, or pop-up restaurant that she’s interested in trying.

Often her planned itinerary for the evening means she is hitting up several galleries in different neighborhoods, situated miles from each other. Biking is always the most time and economically efficient option. Biking lets Lorraine see more of her City in a deep and comprehensive way. “Biking is the most efficient way to get around SF. No waiting for Muni/BART, no need to find a parking spot…plus, it's a great way to enjoy the city, it's good exercise, and it's fun!”

Riding the streets of SF for a decade has allowed Lorraine to see the progress in SF bike infrastructure firsthand. She rode on Valencia Street before bike lanes and the green wave were implemented, she embraced the Wiggle and the bike path through the Panhandle, she donated to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition when bike corrals proliferated all over town, she applauded the greening and protected lane of Oak Street, rejoiced in the victory of lifting the time restriction on bikes on BART and looks forward to the day that bicycling down Polk Street will feel more secure.

Though the City’s bike infrastructure has changed for the better in the last decade, one thing that hasn’t changed is the San Francisco bicycling community. The people have always inspired Lorraine to keep on with her pedal power. When she first moved to the City, she was friends with bike messengers “…who spurred me on.”

She continues that tradition by inspiring and encouraging others to do the same by her own year-round biking lifestyle. You can often see Lorraine biking with her husband and close friends to events throughout San Francisco. And in case you’re curious about biking, she’d like you to consider this: “There’s a lot of camaraderie along the bike routes -- bikers look out for one another.”

If you’re thinking of participating in Bike to Work Day for the first time this year, she has this advice for you: “Start with finding the best bike route/lanes to your work place using the bike maps put out by SFBC. You'll see that it's easier and more fun than you could have imagined. Give it a go!"

Bike Commuting in Oakland

Ali Aronstam, by Natalie Orenstein

Almost one year after graduating from college, Ali Aronstam is beginning to figure it out. She has a job as an Americorps member at West Oakland Middle School’s health center, and she’s found a cozy place to live just within her budget. But it’s Ali’s bicycle, which she rides to work most days, that is primarily to thank for her newfound sense of independence.

“There’s a special kind of gratification for getting yourself somewhere, for propelling yourself there,” Ali says. “It’s self-sufficiency.”

The four-mile commute from her Rockridge abode to the school takes just under half an hour, providing ample time for observation and reflection. “I work somewhere that’s pretty different from where I live, so it’s helpful to not just hop in a car and get out somewhere different,” she explains. “I can see the city transform, and go through different neighborhoods.”

Cycling is also “a nice way to appreciate Oakland and Berkeley,” says Ali, a Palo Alto native who went to school in Southern California. “When I’d just moved here, I really liked to bike and scope out the place. I’d get a little lost every day and it was a nice way to get to know my surroundings.”

Because she was new to the area, Ali, who doesn’t own a car, spent a chunk of time poring over maps and figuring out which streets were bike-friendly. She became so attached to certain bikeways such as Shafter Ave.’s and Woolsey St.’s, that the few times she did get behind a car wheel, she would have to remind herself that she couldn’t drive on them.

Ali was lucky enough to have parents who required her to ride regularly beginning at a young age. Although she resented their insistence at first, by high school her bike had become a part of her identity. Years later, it’s still her preferred mode of transportation; as a health educator, it’s important for her to know that she can model the behavior she promotes. “These days I choose to bike a lot because sometimes it’s the only time I know I’ll get to be outside and be active,” she says.

Ali still feels more comfortable on a bike than she does in a car, but she knows that riding in an urban area for the first time can be intimidating. “You have to give yourself some extra time, but it’s doable,” she says. “If you map out your route and try to find as many bikeways as possible, you’re set.”

Plus, she says, there are countless perks: cyclists save money they’d otherwise spend on gas, and they don’t have to worry about parking. Last week, when a car catastrophe made Ali miss a concert, she was reminded of yet another benefit of biking. “My bike has no chance of coming up with a dead battery!” she says.

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2014 Bike Commuters of the Year

Bike Commuter of the Year (BCOY) award recipients are recognized for their dedication to riding their bike for everyday transportation. They are a testament to the many benefits of bicycle commuting: from improving their health to bringing families together. Nominations were accepted, evaluated and awarded by each county’s Bike to Work Day representative. Here are the 2014 winners of the Bike Commuter of the Year Award. Many of the Awards will be presented at events on Bike to Work Day. In addition to an award, 2014 winners will receive a set of Revolights to light them on their commute and a set of Bay Trail Maps to help them with planning adventures. Check your local bicycle coalition for events.

Congratulations to all the Bike Commuters of the Year!


Bike Commuters of the Year by County

Alameda County

Contra Costa County

Marin County

Napa County

San Francisco County

San Mateo County

Santa Clara County

Solano County

Sonoma County

Alameda County : Rachel Donovan

Rachel Donovan has one of the coolest jobs in the Bay: she is a bridge inspector for Caltrans, which means she gets to climb around all Bay Area toll bridges: “We rappel, drive motor boats, climb around on the piers and go spelunking inside the bridge structures.” Her climbing does not get in the way of her other passion: biking.

“Rachel is a tireless advocate for corporate bike commuting programs in the Bay Area,” wrote one of her colleagues in a nomination. Her efforts and pro-bike attitude, they wrote, helped push Caltrans to third place in the 2013 Region-wide Company Bike Challenge and 1st in Alameda County. They added that “more employees participated in last year's Bike To Work Day than ever before, thanks to Rachel's work!” Under her tenure, Caltrans has become one of Team Bike Challenge’s most active companies, with exceedingly well attended bike commute workshops and weekend rides.

It wasn’t always so. It took long hours of organizing and encouraging for their to be a bicycle culture at Caltrans. The first weekend group ride she organized was a 20 mile ride on the Iron Horse trail from Dublin/Pleasanton BART to Pleasant Hill. “We were biking just to spend time together on the weekend and enjoy the beautiful Bay Area,” said Donovan. “A lot of us are traffic engineers and planners, so we’re also riding on the roads that we’re helping plan and design.”

Since that first ride, Donovan has designed bike jerseys for Caltrans’ Sustainability Team, coordinated bike commute workshops, classes, and many more social rides. Still, she shirks from the title of Bike Commuter of the Year saying that “sometimes people give me the credit for this achievement, just because I was the team organizer, but come on now, I couldn’t have biked all 20,000+ miles myself!”

“There are so many people I can think of here at Caltrans and everywhere else who deserve this title much more than me,” Donovan said, “Perhaps I can be a Bike Commute Encourager?” Of course as one of her colleagues who nominated her wrote “commuter of the year is not just about biking the most miles, it is about inspiring others to do so as well,” and in that category Rachel Donovan is unbeatable.

 

Contra Costa County : Ray Pixton

Ray Pixton -CoCo BCOY 2014

Ray Pixton has been biking to work since 1981, when he started working for the Contra Costa Water District. He is a construction inspector, and he rides rain or shine. “It feels weird to drive a car now,” he says, “I have 3 cars and they just sit in the driveway.”

Ray’s coworkers nominated him for the award, writing that his dedication to riding to work inspired them. “It’s news to me,” said Pixton about being an inspiration to his coworkers; “I just thought I was doing my own thing.” His commute is a pleasure, he says, because the 8 miles from Concord to Pleasant Hill allow him to ride on trails alongside the canals he also helps inspect.

It wasn’t always easy though: “I remember my first ride was a 5-mile ride and I just about died, I was so out shape,” Pixton joked, “but I stuck to it.” His commitment helped him out when, in the 90s, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. “Exercise has been a really important part of my treatment to keep my blood sugar levels down,” says Pixton.

Last year he raised close to $900 for the Tour de Cure, a 50-mile fundraiser ride for the American Diabetes Association. He’s planning on riding again this May and plans on surpassing $900. “It’s been a good goal which helps me train and gets me in better shape, but 50 miles is about my limit - I’m 61 after all!” Pixton is retiring this summer and although he’s not sure if he’s going to stop working, he won’t stop biking. “I’ll miss the commute,” he says.

 

Marin County : Rich Steele

Rich Steele - 2014 BCOY Marin

Rich Steele bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge everyday from his home in Tiburon to his office in San Francisco and back. Everyday he packs his work clothes in his backpack along with his computer. To save space, Rich smartly leaves a brown belt/shoes and black belt/shoes at his office to change into. His dedication to bike commuting doesn't waiver, no matter the weather, Rich always bikes. To encourage friends and neighbors to bike, Rich organizes meeting places to lead commuter convoys from Marin County to San Francisco. His wife, Dana, admires Rich for being a role model to their children about healthy living, biking and sustainability. She says, “He is MY Bike Commuter of the Year (and every year),” and feels his passion for cycling and keeping a car off the road is admirable.

 

Napa County : Paul Schapiro

Paul Schapiro - 2014 BCOY Napa

Paul Schapiro is the Napa County Bicycle Commuter of the Year. Paul lives in American Canyon in the southern part of Napa County and has ALWAYS biked to work to the City of Napa, a 15 mile round trip on a not very bike-friendly Highway 29.

Not only does Paul bike to and from work, he does ALL his errands on his bike…meetings and social events after work, grocery and other shopping on the weekends (and he even bikes into Napa to the Trader Joe’s because he loves to shop there!).  And he is well known for trying to get his co-workers to ride to work!  He has been successful in getting many on bikes and several are now participating in Cycle for Sight annually.

All of this is truly admirable but what is amazing is that last fall Paul was in a terrible accident while riding his bike.  A car door was opened just as he approached it, and the collision sent him to the hospital.  He had surgery on a knee and ankle and was in a full leg cast for months.  But as soon as that cast was off he was in physical therapy with a goal to get on his bike as soon as possible.  Paul proclaimed that he wouldn’t be himself if he couldn’t get back on his bike.

Well, he is back on the bike and has been making the commute every day with the weekend trips as well… AND he did the Cycle for Sight in Napa on April 26 and then rode to Napa to attend Napa Bike Fest on April 27. Paul is not yet totally recovered from the bike crash, can’t walk real well and he may never run again, but he can and does ride his bike every day!

Paul is truly a special bike commuter and an inspiration to all of those who know him. 

 

San Francisco County : Bao-Tran Ausman

Bao-Tran Austman - BCOY 2014 - SF

You might be noticing more and more parents biking with kids around the city, and Bao-Tran Ausman, SF Bicycle Coalition member since 2010, is among them. A prime and dedicated example of family biking, Bao-Tran now carries her two children on the back of her Surly Big Dummy all over town, routinely picking up her daughters, 8-year-old Ava and 5-year-old Alexandra. If that’s not enough, sometimes Bao-Tran goes shopping with the kids and carts groceries in panniers. Talk about pedaling strength packed in an all-in-one commute!

Bao-Tran started biking a year after giving birth to her first child when she couldn’t find time to go to gym and needed a dependable mode of transportation. Biking has proved to be both the most timely and reliable, so she sticks with it.

When asked who she chooses to commute by bike with her kids, she had this to say, “When my husband was working out of town, I was responsible for picking up my kids daily within an hour. So, I needed a sure and timely way to get to my kids since I had a little over 6 miles to bike in an hour time frame. Biking allowed me get from work to their schools in a predicable fashion, and my kids loved being on the Surly “big dummy” because they can snack, talk with each other, and see the world around them. I love it because I can depend on my commute and get the exercise I need (sometime more than I want thanks to the hills).”

She has advice for biking with kids in tow, “Don’t be scared; it’s easier than you think. Introduce your kids to bicycling by having them ride with you, with their seats at same level as you. Start with riding in safe area like Golden Gate Park on Sunday; Sunday Streets; and taking them on short trips to store in the neighborhood. Once they are comfortable; go a further distance. You might consider a tag alone so they ride in tandem with you and can (get used to) observing the road. Then, when they are able to ride on their own, begin to teach them road safety before they ride on the road, choose wide neighborhood streets and stop at every stops sign to look both ways.”

 

San Mateo County : Lori Burns

Lori Burns - BCOY 2014 San Mateo

Lori Burns works for the town of Colma and lives in San Bruno about 6 miles from her work. Lori says her life changed for the better on Thursday, May 13, Bike to Work Day 2010. 

Lori describes her transformation: “Four years ago, I was a chubby but active woman, who loved the notion of reducing my carbon footprint, but not too sure how to do it. I decided to “ride my talk” and bike to work that Thursday morning, much like “thousands” of commuters throughout the Bay Area. I got up about 30 minutes earlier than normal, stuffed some business attire into a back pack and cruised to work due north on El Camino Real.  There were some parts of the ride that were pretty hairy, but I made it! 

While bragging about my feat all day long to my co-workers and complaining about the narrow stretch of road between South San Francisco and the Colma border, a colleague told me about the Bicentennial Trail that runs along the BART line from San Bruno to South San Francisco.  With that “insider tip,” I just had to try that route. The Bicentennial Trail got me totally hooked! I began to ride more often, and became more committed to biking to work. So determined I was that I packed a week’s worth of business clothing (shoes and accessories – much like packing for a vacation) and brought my stuff to my office over the weekend, so I could ride daily without wearing wrinkled slacks. Because my clothing was already at my office, I had no choice (other than buying more work clothes) but to ride my bike to work.  Slowly, I began to grow stronger, and more importantly, I lost weight!  Everyone noticed, but most especially me.

I took a bike-riding trip to Bar Harbor, Maine that summer and rode the carriage roads that President Roosevelt funded and then I turned my husband on to cycling!  We began spending weekends exploring bike trails all over the Bay Area. What a wonderful way to fill our time as we try to live a healthy life style – while saving for retirement (bike riding is a pretty inexpensive hobby after all).

Last year, five friends joined my husband and I for the Back Roads Challenge in Sonoma County, which benefited various Sonoma County charities.  We road 70 miles from Petaluma to Bolinas and back, 3500 feet elevation change!  This year, we are tackling the Cycle for Sight in Yountville to benefit Veteran’s programs.  We have chosen the 50-mile course.  Wish us luck!”

“Commuting to work on my bicycle helps prepare me for the longer rides, clears my mind and keeps me healthy. Give it a try!”

Lori Burns is a true inspiration and example of how Bike to Work Day can be the transformative pivotal point it’s meant to be.

 

Santa Clara County : Michele Rowic

Lori Rowic - 2014 BCOY Santa Clara

Michele Rowic commutes to and from work, to meetings, to the grocery store – all on bike, rain or shine. Michele is a librarian at the San Jose Public Library. Michele’s commitment to cycling extends into her work. This year, she originated the Giro de Libro (Tour of the Book) bike ride in which participants ride their bikes to multiple library branches to learn more about cycling and the San Jose Public Library system. During the ride, cyclists will visit nine different libraries, participating in activities at each site.

Her co-workers may have summed her up best when writing, “She inspires me and all my colleagues at SJPL to live a slower, more sustainable existence. Her commitment to cycling extends into her work”. Another co-worker wrote, “She is one of the most dedicated bike riders I have ever met. She rides her bike to work and back home practically every day, even during the winter when it is quite cold and wet.”

Congratulations, Michele! And thank you for helping to inspire everyone you meet to embrace the bicycle for everyday use!

 

Solano County : James Oliver

James Oliver - 2014 BCOY Solano

James Oliver has been riding his bike to work for the past eight years. He started riding to stay fit and lost 45 pounds. He had to go to great lengths to adapt his bike for his 70% disability.

Regardless of the weather James rides to work, eight miles round trip, to Vacaville Convalescent & Rehabilitation Center where he is an Occupational Therapist. During the holiday season he decorates his bike with lights and wreath to bring joy to all he sees or sees him.

James enjoys the commuting on the newly completed bike path on Leisure Town Road as he listens to books on tape on his journey. He loves that each day the trip is different depending on what is in bloom or what bird is migrating through the area.

James is co-captain for Relay for Life and goes out on his bike during his lunch seeking donations for this worthy event.

He constantly sets goals for himself and hopes to complete a 500-mile ride along the famous El Camino de Santiago in Spain by age 70.

James has a humble spirit, even though he accomplished a lot during his life.He is honored to receive the 2014 Solano County Bike Commuter of the Year.

 

Sonoma County : Liz Klaproth

Liz Klaproth - Sonoma BCOY 2014

Liz Klaproth is the Sonoma Bike Commuter of the Year. Daily, through rain or shine, she rides her bike from her home on a hill in Sebastopol to her job at Argent Bank in Sonoma. Personifying a Bike to Work aesthetic she is committed to riding her bike in clothes appropriate for a banker.

Her dedication to the environment is one reason why she lives a car-free life, but another reason is the convenience. "I used to live in bigger cities and never had a need for a car. I now live and work in Sebastopol it’s the most convenient way to get around. No point in turning on a car when I can get most places faster on bike." 

She inspires her friends who are in awe of her dedication to a life of bicycling. It was a friend that taught her to bike when she was young, "My best friend growing up taught me. It’s the classic story of “promise I won’t let go” followed by her letting go and me immediately crashing into a tree. You pick it up fast after your first wreck I guess. Only one major crash since then. Now I have  a pretty nifty happy faced scar on my knee."

The friends that nominated her, have this to say, “I have known this lady for years and she bikes everywhere! To work, to the bar, to meet up and hang out with us... I have seen her with loads of groceries in her basket. She is awesome!”

Congratulations, Liz! Thank you for inspiring all those you come into contact with by using your bike for everyday transportation.

 

Past BCOYS 

 

2013 Bike Commuter of the Year Winners

2012 Bike Commuter of the Year Winners

2011 Bike Commuter of the Year Winners

2010 Bike Commuter of the Year Winners

2009 and 2008 Bike Commuter of the Year Winners

New Bike Commuter Shares Her Story

Emily Brotman by Natalie Orenstein

When after school instructor Emily Brotman rolls into the schoolyard on her bike each afternoon, her curious fourth grade students swarm around her, asking questions and admiring her bike.

Serving as a roll (er, role) model to her impressionable students is just one of the many benefits Emily has reaped from biking to work. The recent college graduate only began riding from her apartment in the Castro to Francis Scott Key Elementary School in the Sunset about a month ago, when Daylight Savings Time made the evening commute much more pleasant.

Before she started biking, Emily would endure two 50-minute muni rides per day. Cycling has cut her commute in more than half. Now she takes a pleasant four-mile ride on the Wiggle (the city’s popular mile-long bike path) and through Golden Gate Park.

“It’s beautiful,” she says. “It’s fun to see the plants changing. One week suddenly all these cherry blossoms had bloomed, and another week they were totally gone and had been replaced by thick green leaves.”
Seasonal change is something Emily missed out on growing in Singapore. The Bay Area native learned to ride a bike in Palo Alto, but spent most of her formative years in Asia. She returned to California to go to Pomona
College near Los Angeles, in another relatively consistent climate zone.

Because the driving age is 18 in Singapore, Emily never got a driver’s license. Traversing San Francisco by foot was fun, but her ability to truly explore her new hometown was significantly hindered. When she bought her current bike – from a man who fixes dead bikes and sells them for nominal amounts – San Francisco opened up to her.

“Suddenly the city is much more within my reach,” Emily says. Biking has given her “a really different sense of the size and accessibility of San Francisco.”

Take her favorite destination, Scrap, a warehouse in Bayview that sells recycled art materials.

“I always had this idea that it was out in the middle of nowhere, because it’s in this industrial area,” she says. “When I’d go there by bus I’d have to budget 40 minutes or more because you don’t know how long you have to wait for a bus. I biked there the other day and I went through a pretty part of the Mission I’d never seen before. It was so easy and I couldn’t believe how close it was.”

Despite how recently Emily began biking regularly, her new routine has already had tangible effects.
“I feel like I’m actually developing muscle for the first time in my life,” she says. “I notice myself getting stronger and being able to go faster without taking breaks.” She surprised herself by soaring over a particularly challenging hill by her apartment in one go the other day.

Like many cyclists, Emily has figured out the value of a bike buddy. Her coworker bikes behind her during their commute, challenging her to keep pace and push herself.

Emily insists that it’s easy to become a bike commuter, regardless of one’s experience (or lack thereof) on a bike. Just take a moment to familiarize yourself with the established bike paths and map out the safest, flattest routes, she says.

“You get the sense of accomplishment of having powered yourself from Point A to Point B,” she says.
Will she eventually trade her two wheels in for four? Unlikely.

“I don’t see myself getting a license,“ she says. “No matter where I am, if I’m in a city that’s relatively bikeable, I’m going to try to make it work.”